Monday Mornings with Madison

The Challenges Ahead for U.S. Businesses in 2015

According to President Obama’s State of the Union Address this week, “After a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”  Indeed, just a few weeks into 2015, the nation’s economy does seem to be in the best shape it’s been since before the Great Recession (which is indeed good news, but certainly does not set the bar very high). U.S. employment increased by nearly three million jobs in 2014.  Unemployment decreased a full percentage point between 2013 and 2014, dropping to the current 5.6% — the lowest rate since 2008 and the largest year-over-year decline since 1984.  If things continue on this track, the U.S. is predicted to reach 5% unemployment by the end of the year, which is nearing that economic nirvana of “full employment”.  Also, declining oil prices have helped bolster consumer purchasing power.  The U.S. dollar is also at its highest value in many years.   These are all good indicators. Continue reading

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To Change a Behavior, Change the Environment

At the beginning of a year, many people make resolutions to change.  They want to break a bad habit or start a good habit.  Or they want to improve or reduce how or how much they do something.  For some, the change is personal.  Lose weight.  Eat healthy.  Exercise.  Stop smoking.  For others, the change is professional.  Stay organized.  Find greater work/life balance.  Be on time to work.  Have more patience.  Be more pleasant to customers.  For each person, it is a different resolution.  Yet, everyone basically wants to do the same thing:  change a difficult-to-change behavior.  (After all, if it was easy to change the behavior, there’d be no need for a resolution!) Continue reading

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Handling Competitors

There is no business that exists anywhere in the free-market world that is without competition… at least not for long.  The moment a product or service is invented and sold, someone somewhere opens a business that rivals it somehow.  The competitor’s delivery method might differ.  Or its service and support might be better.  Or the competitor’s product might be slightly improved.  Competition is inevitable. Continue reading

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Four Tips for Making a Fresh Start

An unequivocal part of being human is making mistakes.  We try things and fail.  When standing at a fork in the road, we sometimes take the wrong path.  We act when we should wait, and wait when we should act.  However, failing is not synonymous with failure.  Mistakes and wrong turns are the reasons that there are erasers on pencils and a ‘reverse’ gear on every car’s transmission.  Miscalculations, blunders and slips are an undeniable and unavoidable part of the human condition.  No matter how big the error or how ‘off track’ one might go, there is always an opportunity to pause, reassess, and start again. Continue reading

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A Time to Plan

In the course of an ordinary day, most business people rush from meeting to meeting, call to call, and task to task at a frenetic pace.  There simply are not enough hours in a day to do everything that needs to get done.  The here-and-now is both emphatic and demanding.  This relentless focus on the immediate makes it nearly impossible to plan for the future.  Moreover, the future is so vaguely ambiguous. In the present, everything must get done now, but even when current needs have been met, the future remains distant and fuzzy.  Notwithstanding, planning ahead is among a business owner’s most essential responsibilities, and this is the time of year when most companies should take time to look ahead and consider goals for the future. Continue reading

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Charitable Giving – Part 2

Where to Give?

By most accounts, the U.S. economy is doing better.  Unemployment is down.  Job growth has been robust.  Businesses are doing better, and the Dow is hitting historic highs.  As companies and people find themselves doing better financially, they are more inclined to want to help those who are less fortunate.  However, deciding which charity or charities to support can be a challenge.  Determining which charity is the most worthwhile and trustworthy to use the donation wisely is hard for even those most knowledgeable about good causes.  There are over a million charitable organizations in the U.S. alone. It is hard to decide which cause is ‘best’ when there are so many worthwhile charities.  For example, UNICEF helps protect the world’s children by providing clean drinking water, vaccinations and emergency relief in disaster areas.    The Against Malaria Foundation provides bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions.  The Seva Foundation treats trachoma and other common causes of blindness in developing countries. The list goes on and on. How does one decide which organization is most deserving of financial support?

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Charitable Giving – Part 1

Who Gives?

Did you know that charitable giving increases at this time of year? Indeed, about 40 percent of all charitable donations in the U.S. are made in December. For many charities, end-of-year fundraising is the difference between a successful year and financial hard times. But who is doing the giving? Many think that the majority of all charitable donations are made by the ultra wealthy (think Bill Gates and Sam Walton), big foundations, or prosperous companies trying to increase their tax deductions. In reality, of the more than $300 billion that Americans give to charities every year, only 15% comes from foundation grants and 6% from corporations. The rest – nearly 80 cents of every dollar — is given by individuals. Yet, it’s not primarily by the people you’d most expect. Continue reading

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Logo Mania

Often people confuse the words ‘logo’ and ‘brand’, and use them interchangeably.  For many, the two words are synonymous.  That is not so.  A company’s brand is comprised of much more than its logo.  A brand is a promise.  It’s a unique combination of a logo, words, typefaces, colors, slogan, mascot, personality, price, customer service, aesthetics, attitude, voice, and more, all working together to convey the essence of the company or organization.  That said, the company logo is a key, integral part of its brand and, often, it is the most easily-identifiable representation of the company’s identity. Continue reading

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The Business Conundrum of Quantity or Quality?

About 2,000 years ago, Roman philosopher and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca was quoted as saying “It is quality rather than quantity that matters.”  Some 1,900 years later, Scottish author and poet George McDonald agreed saying “It is our best work that G-d wants, not the dregs of our exhaustion. I think he must prefer quality to quantity.”  Mohandas Ghandi also said that “It is the quality of our work which will please G-d and not the quantity.”  These learned men agree that when it comes to work, excellence trumps volume.  Less is more. Continue reading

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A Good Time To Do Good

There is no shortage of blessings for which we should express appreciation.  Solid health.  Supportive spouse.  Loving family.  Long-time friends.  Thriving business.  Great success.  Acclaim.  Good fortune.   It turns out that giving thanks is good not only for the people receiving that appreciation (after all, it feels good to be told “thank you”) but also for the person expressing gratitude.  In fact, gratitude seems to work like a “booster shot” for relationships.  This goes for relationships at work as well. An employee expressing gratitude for a boss’ generosity makes both the boss and employee feel better.  The same is true for a boss expressing appreciation for an employee’s hard work.  Both boss and employee feel better. Giving thanks — the actual act of expressing it — is mutually beneficial. Continue reading

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